What ever disunites man from God, also disunites man from man. -Edmund Burke
Jacob is on his deathbed. He assembles all of his sons for his parting words. The Chidushei HaRim on Genesis 49:2 looks beyond the obvious convenience of addressing all of his sons at one time and wonders, what is the value of them being present at the same time.
He explains that there are some aspects of the Torah, some secrets of the Torah that can only be understood in a unified gathering. He elaborates that every individual Jew holds the key to understanding a piece of the Torah and the understanding can only be unlocked in a wider gathering. There are parts of the Torah which no person can grasp on their own and they need to be connected and united with other Jews to access that Torah.
But there’s more. That unique part of the Torah that is the personal heritage of an individual Jew is also a blessing. Just like that understanding of the Torah, the blessing is only revealed, is only transformed from potential to reality, when the Jewish people are united.
However, the unification of the Jewish people is not only meant to be a physical, political, or even social unity. For those hidden elements of the Torah to be revealed and for the hidden blessings to come to fruition, it can only happen when the unification is around God. When Jews seek the deepest truths and seek to connect to God, when Jews unite without any other ulterior or distracting motives, the Chidushei HaRim states that is when the deep wellsprings of Torah will be accessible and blessings will abound.
May we indeed reach such levels of unity.
To my daughter Tiferet’s school, Ulpanat Arad, and their fundraising effort to build a needed building for environmental education. If you’re looking for a good cause, please consider helping Tiferet reach her goal of raising NIS 5,000 (around $1,600) for her school. You can contribute thru this link: https://charidy.com/arad/52562
A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices. -Edward R. Murrow
Jacob, the patriarch of the family, the father of the twelve brothers who will form the future nation of Israel, is on his deathbed. He calls his sons into his room so that he can bless them and share with them his prophetic visions of their future.
Out of all the siblings, there are only two that he refers to as “brothers,” Shimon and Levi. But the context is not a positive one. Jacob’s parting statement to them reads as follows:
“Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their weapons are tools of lawlessness. Let not my person be included in their council, Let not my being be counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay men, And when pleased they maim oxen. Cursed be their anger so fierce, And their wrath so relentless. I will divide them in Jacob, Scatter them in Israel.”
To put it mildly, Jacob’s final words to Shimon and Levi seem to be the opposite of a blessing.
The Bechor Shor on Genesis 49:5 focuses on the word “brothers” and tries to dig deeper into Jacob’s meaning and use of the word. He explains that Jacob is referring to a very basic principle of human socialization. Shimon and Levi were “brothers” in their nature, their disposition, and their prejudices. As a result, they regularly hung out with each other. They both possessed the trait of anger. Their ill will and negative thoughts reinforced each other and led them to violent and dangerous actions (the destruction of the city of Shechem and plotting to kill Joseph). The two of them formed their own echo chamber. When they thought perhaps that they were rationally discussing a topic, they were merely validating their dangerous ideas and emotions.
In that context, the Bechor Shor quotes perhaps the original formulation of “birds of a feather flock together” (attributed to William Turner, 1545), quoting the Babylonian Talmud (completed circa the year 500) “All fowl will live with its kind, and men with those like him” (Tractate Baba Kama 92b), a line which derives from the even older Book of Ben Sira 13:17 (circa 200 BCE) where Ben Sira writes “All flesh loveth its kind; And every man him that is like unto him.”
In any case, Jacob’s prophecy came to fruition. The descendants of both Shimon and Levi were dispersed throughout the territory of Israel, in part, to prevent their getting together and seeking future destructive council with each other.
While it is often nice to seek like-minded people, when it’s about negative perspectives, it’s better to seek out others.
To the Israeli Medical system for their incredible vaccine distribution effort.
Only by the good influence of our conduct may we bring salvation in human affairs; or like a fatal comet we may bring destruction in our train. – Desiderius Erasmus
In the last Torah reading from the Book of Genesis, the Torah starts off the portion (Genesis 47:28) by telling us that Jacob lived in Egypt as opposed to naming the more specific area of Goshen, where Jacob and his clan were based.
The Meshech Chochma explains that there are some people who live exclusively for themselves, looking out for themselves and their limited personal interests (which he states is fine). There are some people whose concern extends to their immediate family, who live their life supporting and taking care of their family. There are those whose concern extends even further and will be looking out for the wellbeing of everyone in their community or city, who will dedicate their lives to helping out all the residents of where they live. Finally, there are those who are concerned for the entire world, who live their lives in a way that contributes and impacts the whole world. This is referenced by King Solomon’s phrase (Proverb 10:25) that “the Tzadik (righteous) are the foundation of the world.”
The Meshech Chochma states that Jacob “lived” for, was concerned for, not just the city where he dwelt, not just for the larger area of Goshen, but that he lived for, he was concerned for all of Egypt. For that reason, the Midrash states that the massive famine which had indirectly brought Joseph to power in Egypt also came to a halt in all of Egypt when Jacob arrived. Conversely, the famine apparently returns to all of Egypt when Jacob dies.
The Meshech Chochma adds that the power of the Tzadik extends even in death and burial; that in some fashion the grave of a righteous person has some power to facilitate divine forgiveness and protection. For that reason, during the funeral procession when Jacob is brought to the land of Israel to be buried, the Torah states that it was a “heavy mourning” for Egypt. Egypt suffered by the fact that Jacob wasn’t buried in their land, but rather in the land of Israel. Egypt lost the divine protection that the power of Jacob’s presence had afforded them, in life and in death.
May we have ever expanding circles of positive influence and may we likewise be positively influenced by those who look out for our families, our communities, our countries and our world.
If a song’s about something I’ve experienced or that could’ve happened to me it’s good. But if it’s alien to me, I couldn’t lend anything to it. Because that’s what soul is all about. -Aretha Franklin
On his deathbed, our Patriarch Jacob bestows prophetic last words upon his sons, the twelve tribes of Israel. His final oration is given in poetic and often hard-to-decipher language.
To his first three sons, Reuven, Shimon and Levi, he gives what appears to be harsh criticism. To Reuven, he castigates him for his impetuousness. Shimon and Levi are cursed for their violence.
Judah and Joseph receive long and expansive blessings. The other sons get short, cryptic, prophetic blessings. This includes the blessing to his son Naftali, which can be loosely translated as follows:
“Naftali is a doe let loose; he giveth goodly words.”
The Berdichever explains that Naftali is compared to a doe, for a doe has very strong legs and can move quickly and lightly. This hints at the fact that he had extremely strong faith in God, for there is some connection here between the concept of “legs” and God.
Because of Naftali’s great faith he then gives “goodly words,” namely, song. Naftali would sing to and praise God from the very depths of his being, based on his steadfast faith in God.
He goes on to quote the ancient translator Yonatan ben Uziel, who states that the tribe of Naftali went on to produce beautiful singers, because the tribe possessed great faith in God. This great faith compelled them to always sing beautifully to God. The faith, the soul, caused the beautiful singing.
The Berdichever highlights that when a person achieves faith in God, they too will break out into song and praise of God.
May our songs be full of soul, faith, praise and joy.
To Shira and Amichai IshRan who survived the terrorist attack last week. Their strength, their courage and their song are inspiring. And to the memory of their son who was killed, Amiad Israel hy”d.
Promises are the uniquely human way of ordering the future. -Hannah Arendt
The term “Jew” is derived from Judean, meaning descendants of Judah. But Judah was only one of the sons of Jacob, only one of the tribes of Israel. Our history tells us that before the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem, more than 2,700 years ago, our brothers, the ten northern tribes of Israel, were conquered and exiled by the king of Assyria. They have been lost to our history ever since.
There is a wide ranging discussion as to the fate of these lost ten tribes. However, every year there is more evidence of how far descendants of the tribes of Israel reached. They may have reached as far as India, China and even the Americas. Even more significantly, members of these recently discovered tribes have been accepted as Jewish by leading Rabbis and have come back to the land of Israel. This includes the Ethiopian Jews who trace their ancestry to the tribe of Dan and the Indian Jews who still refer to themselves as the children of the tribe of Menashe.
Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 49:1 (Vayechi) foretold the return of the missing tribes centuries ago and explained that our patriarch Jacob prophetically hinted at these events in his last words to his children. Jacob uses two different terms for “you will be gathered” in his dying words. Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that Jacob was referring to two gatherings, each related to two redemptions. The first redemption was that the Children of Israel, all twelve tribes, would be redeemed from the slavery of Egypt and all of them would be brought to the land of Israel. The second redemption which will parallel in many respects the redemption from Egypt, refers to the end of days, the Messianic era that would encompass two broad “gatherings.”
The first gathering to Israel would be the return of the descendants of Judah (which includes the tribe of Benjamin as well as Levites and Kohens) – which we are witnesses to in the modern era. The second gathering will be that of the ten tribes during the final redemption, bringing together all the tribes of Israel after millennia of separation, something that we see unfolding before our very eyes.
May our brothers from all corners of the earth find their way home and may we welcome them back graciously.
To the organization Shavei Israel, which has been so vital in helping find and bring back our lost tribes.
Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. -Russell Baker
Jacob, the Patriarch of the nascent nation of Israel lies on his deathbed. He convenes his twelve sons, the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. He addresses them as a unit and individually. His language is flowery, poetic, prophetic.
He chastises his first three sons, Reuven, Shimon and Levi. The remaining sons receive positive pronouncements and predictions.
Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 49:7 analyzes Jacob’s reprimand of Shimon and Levi. Jacob is upset with these two sons for their deception and brutality when they massacred the residents of Shechem. It went against the norms of justice and morality. Rabbi Hirsch attacks the popular belief that all is fair in statecraft. He claims that the concept that the end justifies the means runs counter to the principles of Judaism. What is reprehensible if done by one individual to another for their own personal consideration is equally reprehensible if done in the name of the state. Morality applies in politics and diplomacy. It is not only the purview of private affairs.
Rabbi Hirsch takes this interpretation a step further:
“The last will and testament upon which the Jewish people was founded pronounces a curse upon all acts of deception and brutality, even if they are committed for the most legitimate interests of the nation, and it sets down for all time the doctrine that even in public life and in the promotion of the common good not only the ends but also the means used to attain these ends must be clean.”
“However, it is only the anger and outrage of Shimon and Levi that are cursed. The curse is directed neither against Shimon and Levi personally, nor against their aims as such.”
Government reactions of anger, outrage and deception, while understandable or even politically justified, are often ineffective or counterproductive as matters of public policy. Once we’ve identified the correct aims, we need to reach them through correct and straightforward means.
May we have a leadership that will take the correct path, see that justice is done to those that promote and insight terror, and is not swayed by the political winds of expediency.
In memory of Erez Orbach of Alon Shvut. God will avenge his blood.
Life is filled with secrets and mysteries. Fantasies and illusions. Facades and deceptions. One of the greatest deceptions may be our corporal selves. Though our bodies appear solid, take up space, have mass, are capable of movement, of feeling, of action, there is something intrinsically deceptive about them.
We are so used to thinking of ourselves as the composite of the molecules enclosed by our skin that it may difficult to think of our physical embodiment as a lie – and a short-lived one at that.
When talking about the Patriarch Jacob and his death, the Sfat Emet in 5633 (1872) explains that our superficial, corporal, material selves is not our true self. Our true self is the inner, intangible, spiritual entity. Because our bodies are limited and do not last, then they do not reflect the truth. They are lies, and lies are eventually revealed to be ephemeral, of limited effect and duration. The surface merely hides the truth within. Often, the greater the superficiality, the deeper the truth that is hidden inside.
The Sfat Emet states that there is one surefire way to access that truth, to connect to the real part of ourselves – and that is by seeking the will of God. God is the ultimate truth, and by latching on to Him we reinforce the true part of ourselves.
May we see past all the lies and understand what is real.
To FC Barcelona for winning the Club World Cup Final. Suarez made Uruguayans very proud.
There are times when God asks nothing of his children except silence, patience and tears. -C. S. Robinson
A great evil was done to Joseph. His very brothers, his very flesh and blood, plan to kill him, but then change their mind and have him sold as a slave. Years later, when they meet again and at the very moment when Joseph can have his vengeance, he instead forgives them.
Years after that, after their father Jacob passes away, his brothers are still unconvinced by Joseph’s mercy. Joseph reiterates that he harbors no ill will, that he does not seek a redress for the wrongs that his brothers afflicted upon him.
However, in the last verses of the book of Genesis, the last words Joseph speaks in his life, he makes his brothers’ children swear that they will return his body to the land of Israel. The Baal Haturim on Genesis 50:25 asks why Joseph didn’t make this demand of his own children, who presumably have a greater responsibility to see to the wishes of their patriarch.
The Baal Haturim answers that in this instance we are finally seeing, in a very subtle way, Joseph’s demand for the long-delayed justice for the sin of the brothers. The brothers were responsible for exiling Joseph from the land of Canaan, and specifically from Shechem. It is their responsibility to return him to Canaan. Joseph’s remains are finally carried by Moses himself and then by Joshua, who buries him by the city from which he was taken – Shechem.
May we be spared from causing or suffering injustices, and may we have the strength and patience to bear them when they occur.
To God, who we forget about, don’t take seriously enough, or take for granted. He works out everything in the end.
—Padre —preguntó el chico—, ¿por qué ese ataúd está hecho de metal? Pensé que por lo general eran de cerámica o de madera.
—Eso es muy perceptivo de tu parte, hijo —respondió el padre, mientras seguían al cortejo fúnebre—. Este es un ataúd especial para José, el antiguo Virrey.
—¿Por qué es tan diferente entonces?
—Vas a ver muy pronto. Su entierro será diferente.
—Y hay tanta gente aquí… Nunca he visto tanta gente para un funeral antes.
—Sí, es realmente grande. Creo que el entierro de Jacobo, el padre del Virrey, llegó a ser tan grande como este. Y desde entonces su familia ha crecido aún más.
—¿Qué familia, Padre?
—Pues los hijos de Israel. Ellos se han multiplicado a un ritmo asombroso.
—Lo dices como si fuera algo malo.
—Creo que no es bueno que los extranjeros deban llegar a ser tan poderosos. Ya era bastante preocupante cuando el Virrey tenía tanta influencia y control sobre Egipto.
La procesión continuó hacia los cementerios reales.
—¿Y quiénes son esos hombres viejos que llevan el ataúd?
—Esos son los hermanos del Virrey y sus dos hijos.
—La guardia de honor Real parece más armada de lo habitual, y hay muchos soldados.
—Nuevamente estás siendo muy perceptivo, hijo mío. Eso es muy bueno. Siempre es importante tomar nota de todos los detalles.
Los hermanos querían entrar en la puerta de entrada a los cementerios Reales, pero la guardia de honor, en cambio, los guió hacia el río.
La procesión se detuvo por un momento. Cuando los hermanos se dieron cuenta de que los guardias tenían la ventaja, siguieron hacia el río.
—Ya ves, hijo mío. A veces, sólo una demostración de fuerza es suficiente para evitar el uso de la fuerza, y se puede prescindir de violencia derrochada.
—Sí, padre. Por un momento, sin embargo, me pareció que sería una pelea.
—Era un riesgo. Pero los hebreos son inteligentes. Ellos no pelearían por algo así.
La procesión se acercó a la orilla del Nilo, con la guardia de honor dirigiendo de cerca a los hermanos para que llevaran el ataúd hacia la orilla.
—¿Dónde van a enterrarlo, Padre?
—En el Nilo.
—¿En el Nilo? Eso es tan extraño. Nunca he oído hablar de tal cosa. ¿Por qué en el río?
—Para hacer que su cuerpo sea menos accesible.
—¿Menos accesible? ¿Menos accesible a quién? ¿Para qué?
—Digamos que no sería conveniente si su familia pudiera tener fácil acceso a sus restos.
—¿Pero por qué ? Pensé que el viejo Virrey hizo grandes cosas por Egipto. Me enteré de que él solo salvó el imperio de la hambruna. Este no parece ser un entierro honorable.
—Hmmm. Deben dejar de enseñar historias inventadas. José pudo haber hecho cosas buenas para Egipto en el pasado, pero aún así él era un hebreo. Además, él hizo esas cosas también por su propio interés. Él había sido un humilde esclavo encarcelado antes de que el Faraón anterior lo hubiera elevado de rango, y así terminó invitando a toda su familia a trasladarse a Egipto – y les dio las mejores tierras.
La procesión llegó el agua y los hermanos, bajo la atenta mirada y las lanzas de la guardia de honor, bajaron solemnemente el ataúd al río.
Hordas de hebreos se apresuraron a la orilla, para mirar al ataúd que se hundía rápidamente. Todos señalaban y se miraban los unos a los otros. Prestaron atención a los árboles que los rodeaban y a los caminos y a los paisajes del otro lado del Nilo, como si estuvieran intentando memorizar la ubicación exacta.
—No entiendo, Padre —el muchacho continuó—. Los hebreos siempre han sido leales y ejemplares ciudadanos egipcios. Sé que muchos de los nietos de José permanecen en servicio real y son generalmente los mejores administradores y los soldados más temibles.
—Sin embargo, hijo mío —explicó el padre mientras inspeccionaba todos los hebreos en la orilla—. Ellos son extranjeros. No son nuestros amigos y tú harías bien en recordar eso. Ellos siempre se han mantenido al margen de nosotros, los egipcios, y de nuestra cultura. Ellos desprecian a nuestros dioses, nuestra adoración y prácticas. Y los hebreos que sí abrazan nuestras prácticas… ellos son los peores. Intentan duramente internarse en nuestros círculos, pero no son más que traidores de dos caras. ¡Les temo!
—Sí, padre. Entiendo y oigo lo que dices. Entonces tenemos que encontrar una manera de protegernos de estos hebreos. ¡Son tan numerosos!
—Vamos a tener que encontrar una manera. Ahora que el Virrey ha muerto será más fácil. Pero hará falta tiempo y paciencia. Los otros hermanos no son menos inteligentes de lo que José era, aunque quizá no sean tan sofisticados en las formas de gobierno.
—Como tú digas, Padre.
—Hijo, eres lo suficientemente mayor como para llamarme por mi nombre formal. Debes acostumbrarse a esto.
—No hay que olvidar que estos hebreos son una amenaza. Tal vez la mayor amenaza a la que se enfrentará el imperio. Yo me pondré en movimiento, pero puede que termines siendo tú quienes deba enfrentarse directamente a ellos.
“El trabajo honesto de ayer ha perdido su estatus social, su estima social.” -Peter Drucker
Maimónides, en su obra magna, el Mishné Torá, tiene palabras duras para los Torá eruditos que evitan el trabajo. En sus Leyes de Estudio de la Torá, en el capítulo 3, la Ley 3, afirma:
“Todo el que llega a la conclusión de que debe involucrarse en el estudio de Torá sin trabajar y deriva su sustento de la caridad, profana el nombre de Dios, deshonra a la Torá, apaga la luz de la fe, trae mal sobre sí mismo, y pierde la vida del mundo del porvenir.”
El Netziv adopta un enfoque más suave. Él no llama a este tipo de individuos condenados, vergonzosos, asesinos de la fe, gente malignos cuyas almas están destinadas al eterno olvido. Él simplemente los llama de segunda categoría.
Mientras Reuben, Shimon y Levi son recriminados en las bendiciones finales de Jacobo a sus hijos, y Judá y José reciben despedidas largas y hermosas, es el segundo hijo de José, Efraín, quien es el ganador de sorpresa en las oraciones finales de Jacobo. Jacobo coloca Efraín delante de Menashe, su hermano mayor. Netziv en Génesis 49:13 dice que Efraín se coloca en primer lugar por su nivel de estudio y espiritualidad, debido a su dedicación al estudio de la Torá. El Netziv diferencia entre el nivel de Efraín que se logró en su propio valor, y la de su tío Yissachar.
Hubo una famosa alianza entre dos de los hijos de Jacobo, Zabulón y Yissachar. Zabulón era el comerciante y sus descendientes apoyaron los descendientes estudiosos de Yissachar. Zabulón se menciona siempre antes de Yissachar, como los logros de la Torá de Yissachar son sólo gracias al apoyo financiero de Zabulón. Sin embargo, Efraín ocupa el primer lugar, por su cuenta, que merece un mayor respeto y honor que el Yissachar dependiente.
Que podamos valernos por nosotros mismos pies, cuando podamos, y de ese modo llegar a mayores alturas.
Para mi hijo, Netanel, en su Bar-Mitzvah. Que llegue a ser un erudito de la Torá de la primera clase.